Let’s stop talking about digital disruption

Newsflash: The healthcare industry is not being disrupted by digital technology.

The healthcare industry is being disrupted by consumer-centric organizations that offer retail-like health and wellness services specifically designed to meet and exceed the expectations of today’s healthcare consumers. Those that are threatening our industry and taking our business understand that healthcare customers expect much more than access, quality and affordability. They expect an exceptional, retail-like experience: ease of use and immediacy of service – how, when and where it is most convenient for them, not us. The disruptors leverage digital tools and technologies to provide that enhanced customer experience, of course, but our disruption is being caused by their commitment to a superior customer experience, not by their commitment to digital technology. It’s a mindset issue. It’s a structural, cultural, and behavioral issue. And it’s a critically important distinction.

“Give customers what they want.” So what do healthcare customers want? For most, more than anything else, they want to NOT BE healthcare customers. That means there is and will continue to be a shift from diagnosis and treatment to prediction and prevention. A growing number of healthy individuals and medically managed patients with chronic, but well-controlled conditions seem to want greater responsibility for their personal health. Though still ahead of their time, wearable devices and health and wellness apps have already ushered in this reality. Devices such as weight scales, exercise equipment, home health equipment and kitchen appliances can now be connected and enabled to monitor routines, track compliance or flag negative trends and anomalies, and connected, self-service tests for diagnostic, management and monitoring purposes are already available or pending approval. Today, you can subscribe to innovative wellness services specifically designed to help keep you healthy. These ventures test and monitor their clients in an effort to predict and prevent disease, and their health maintenance programs use custom apps to offer a sense of community as well as personalized coaching, individualized therapies and tailored treatments. I call this “Denial Disruption.” By focusing on the experience and working to keep their customers happy, healthy, and actively engaged in their personal wellbeing, these service providers represent an increasingly disruptive threat to the traditional healthcare operating model as their monitored, brokered or curated wellness services help customers to avoid physician offices, clinics and hospitals. As a result, health care systems will be denied the opportunity to provide traditional diagnosis and treatment services to those that would have become paying patients. That’s real disruption. Responsible individuals’ taking an active interest in maintaining their own health and wellness is also real progress.

Over time, denial disruption may leave legacy healthcare provider systems with a decreasing opportunity to provide bread-and-butter diagnosis and treatment services. But these traditional services also are being threatened. I define this second threat as “Delight Disruption,” and this is the clear and present danger to the current health care delivery model. Exceeding the expectations of customers has always been a winning business strategy. In healthcare, delight disruption is caused by any customer-centric venture that offers traditional medical diagnosis and treatment services specifically designed to enhance the customer experience and delight the consumer. Delight disruption is not about doing different things; delight disruption is about doing things differently. We still watch movies – Netflix made it easy. We still need groceries – FreshDirect made it convenient. We still need rides – Uber and Lyft made it delightful. Healthcare disruptors will aim to offer some or all of the same diagnostic and treatment services as legacy healthcare provider systems, but with a “…when, where, and how it is most convenient for you…” customer-focus. Examples would include focused specialties and the lower-risk, higher-margin medical services such as cosmetic and ambulatory surgery; oncology treatments; pregnancy and birthing; dialysis; walk-in and urgent care; laboratory and pharmacy services; etc. Leveraging ingestibles, wearables, at-home monitors, and self-service diagnostics, as well as real-time chat, messaging, video and telehealth technologies to connect with their customers, the next targets for delight disruption will be family practice and primary care. Without action or response, hospitals and health systems will eventually be left with the higher-risk, lower-margin medical services – emergency; complex surgery; intensive care; and end-of-life.

Denial Disruption may significantly disrupt traditional, legacy healthcare someday. Delight Disruption is threatening the traditional delivery of health care this very moment. Today’s competitive advantage is an enhanced, retail-like customer experience. And customer experience is specifically where our industry is being bested. We are and will continue to be vulnerable to those consumer-centric ventures that offer the same or similar services, but delight their customers with an easy, convenient, frictionless, always-available, retail-like experience. There is no question that the tools and technologies the disruptors will leverage to connect with, serve, and delight their customers will be digital; they are essential to any modern retail experience. To prevail, legacy healthcare must acquire and implement digital retail tools – they are powerful, important and impactful. They are an absolute requirement. And they are readily available. Our innovation focus must be on a new and truly modern, consumer-centric, retail-like operating model that integrates available and emerging digital technologies to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers. Buying and bolting advanced digital tools and technologies onto any legacy structure or persistent culture not specifically designed to delight today’s healthcare consumer with an exceptional experience is simply not worth the effort. The disruptive threat is not digital. The real disruptive threat is experiential.

Sutter Health’s Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer since 2006, Jonathan Manis is a former U.S. Marine Corps ground combat officer who saw the promise of technology in healthcare. With more than 25 years of HIT leadership experience, he is currently helping to lead Sutter Health’s organizational transformation.

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